How to Get a Rental Deposit Back

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Want your rental deposit back?

If you rent a house or an apartment, your landlord will ask you for a rental deposit, which can range from a couple hundred to a couple thousand dollars.

After you move out, you should get the deposit back.  Unfortunately, though, how much you get back is often in dispute.  For example, the landlord may say he needs to use a few hundred dollars of it to fix something, while the you say everything is fixed.  Here’s how to avoid such disputes:

Get It in the Lease

Your lease will detail the amount of the security deposit.  However, leases are usually quite vague as to the return of the deposit.  Even if they mention that the deposit can be used for cleaning purposes, what does “cleaning” entail?  And what happens if the place needs new carpeting?

A good lease should anticipate all potential tie ups.  Here are some questions the lease should answer:

  • Is there maximum cleaning cost?
  • What does cleaning entail?
  • Can the tenant hire the cleaning service?
  • Is the tenant responsible for repairs?
  • What else can be taken out of the deposit?
  • When must the deposit be repaid by?

Your landlord might be unwilling to alter the lease at first.  However, if you ask him some tough questions, he should understand that it would be best if the answers were included in the contract.

Get a Rental Deposit Receipt

When you pay the security deposit, make sure to get a receipt.  The receipt should detail that: (1) your landlord received the deposit, (2) how much was deposited, and (3) where it was deposited (bank and branch).

If your landlord later refuses to refund your rental deposit, then you can demonstrate that you paid it and where it is being kept.

During Your Lease

You should start taking steps to protect your deposit from the first day you move in.

  • Take pictures – Within the first few days, document and take pictures of any existing damage or noteworthy conditions in the apartment.  If your landlord later tries to use your deposit to fix them, show him the pictures.
  • Clean regularly – a rental might not be yours, but if you want your deposit back, don’t wear shoes on the carpeting, clean up spills on the tile, and try to be generally clean.
  • Make repairs – if you notice something awry with your rental, and it’s your fault, fix it before it gets worse.


Once your lease is just about up, it’s time to start thinking about getting your deposit back.  Getting your deposit is especially important if you’re looking for an apartment elsewhere, because you’re going to need a deposit there as well.

Cleaning – ask yourself whether you should leave the cleaning up to your landlord or whether you should do some of your own.  This will depend on how much cleaning is needed and how much money is at stake.  If your deposit is only $100, it’s probably not be worth finding a cleaning service, but if it’s a $1,000, you might be able to save money by getting an affordable cleaning service.

Talking to Your Landlord – if you dispute how much money your landlord is taking out of your deposit, calm your emotions, and write him a congenial letter asking for an accounting.  If you dispute the accounting, or if your landlord refuses to provide you with one, then you can get tougher and possibly look at bringing a claim in small claims court.

Want to avoid deposits all together?  Think about buying your next property.